Mullett Arena? Stay in Tucson? Plan for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate Roadrunners remains unclear

Apr 19, 2024, 5:28 PM | Updated: 6:17 pm

The Tucson Roadrunners, the American Hockey League affiliate of the now-inactive Arizona Coyotes, will start their playoff run next week as the second-place team in the Pacific, but their future home is in flux.

Coyotes intellectual property owner Alex Meruelo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Thursday he kept the Roadrunners in his agreement to sell the Coyotes’ hockey operations department to Ryan and Ashley Smith in Utah while he seeks to buy land for a new arena.

Meruelo mentioned moving the roadrunners up to Mullett Arena to keep professional hockey in the Valley after the Coyotes spent the past two seasons at Arizona State University’s Arena.

In a press conference Friday with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Meruelo walked that back, but he left the possibility open.

“This is very early in the process so I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Meruelo told reporters. “We talked about maybe playing half the season in Tucson and half the season in Mullett. There’s a lot of discussions going on, there’s no commitment from anybody right now so I want to make sure — my words were taken out of context the other day, I did say them but we don’t have any agreements with ASU right now, we haven’t even spoken to the people from Tucson but we have different ideas so we just want to make sure we continue to have hockey thrive in it desert.”

Bettman came to Meruelo’s aid by adding, “It’s understandable as I said before that there aren’t answers to everything because what we managed to do in the last five weeks … we didn’t actually get full signatures until 2 a.m. yesterday, so in terms of the details as to what happens going forward other than the structure of the deal there’s some work to be done, which is understandable.”

The AHL Board of Governors would have to approve any relocation of the Roadrunners to Tempe.

The Roadrunners play at the Tucson Convention Center Arena, and their first season was 2016-17.

Meruelo optimistic on revenue

Meruelo has confidence that the potential next version of the team if he can secure a building would generate one of the highest revenues in the NHL. The optimism comes from the revenues produced at Mullett Arena compared to Desert Diamond Arena (formerly Gila River Arena).

“Moving from Glendale to Tempe was the right decision, our revenues far exceeded what we ever did in Glendale in 18,000 versus 4,500 seats,” Meruelo said. “More importantly, the fan base and the enthusiasm has been infectious. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life.

“I know without a question it works and given the right location, which we look at getting June 27th, given the right location and the new arena I believe Arizona Coyotes could be top 10 in team-generating revenues, no question about it. I’m fully committed to doing that.”

Why has Meruelo not made many public appearances in the process?

Meruelo was notably absent from the Coyotes’ final game in Tempe on Wednesday, and he told Burns & Gambo that had to do with the logistics and paperwork involved with finalizing the deal.

A reporter on Friday asked why the owner has not made many public appearances, and Bettman had to provide some help.

Meruelo: I don’t like the media. In fact, it’s funny, I own two TV stations in Los Angeles, five radio stations in Los Angeles and I’ve never once been on any radio or any TV. I don’t like the media. I avoid media for many reasons.

Bettman: Let me translate that a little bit. I don’t think anybody should take that personally. I think he doesn’t like being a public person and not that he dislikes the media because as he says he owns media, and all of you he wasn’t referring to. Some people don’t like to be that out there in public, and he wouldn’t be the only owner in any sport who feels that way.

Meruelo: “Let me clean it up. He’s exactly right. I didn’t mean it that way, I was being facetious. I am involved in media for many years but I don’t like the limelight. I never have and I don’t feel comfortable with it. I can tell you that I’ve been very involved from day one for five years along with my family, along with Xavier Gutierrez and the entire team have been very involved in this hockey operations to make the changes that are necessary to now what I believe is a great group of young players and they’re going to do extremely well as they move forward. I’ve learned if you don’t say too many things, you don’t get in trouble.”

Smith stepped up at NHL’s request

Bettman said Salt Lake City’s NHL team will play in an arena with 12,000 unobstructed seats and 4,000 obstructed seats with plans to increase capacity to 17,00 over the next two summers.

The commissioner said the league wanted to be in Utah in the long-term and said Smith and his group stepped up when called upon.

“It’s an improved situation, ideally they probably would have preferred the timing of an expansion team and they stepped up at our request to do this,” Bettman said.

Bettman said Smith expressed interest two years ago in owning a team and requested an expansion franchise.

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Mullett Arena? Stay in Tucson? Plan for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate Roadrunners remains unclear